Italian GP diary
Skysports.com reports from Monza as F1 takes in its second classic track in as many weeks.
By Mike Wise. Last Updated: September 10, 2012 7:03pm
The Olympic flame, which has burned so brightly this summer, flickered its last on Sunday evening. By chance, we were presented with a view of the final firework blowout on the Thames towards the end of our flight back from Milan.
Quite a sight it was too, although with attentions aimed squarely at Spa and Monza these past two weeks, I must admit that the Paralympics has largely passed me by: a bit of TV coverage in between the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix but it's mainly been a case of catching headlines via the web and the mobile.
It was interesting to see the attention given to wheelchair rugby. I first became aware of the sport formerly known as 'murderball' last year when I interviewed Great Britain captain Steve Brown. He told me to check it out on YouTube and after doing so, it came as little surprise to see it becoming such a hit....literally.
There has also been much pride within the motor racing world at the exploits of Alex Zanardi, who won two gold medals and a silver in hand-cycling. Talent, determination, humour, perspective...can anyone think of a better role model in sport? If so, I'd love to hear about them.
Shortly after the 'eyes right' moment, we were back at Heathrow Terminal 5. There were both winners and losers on the plane - not that you could really tell gone 11pm; everyone was simply shattered by then and wanting to get home.
"Australia seems such a long time ago now, doesn't it?" said Anthony Davidson. He's right, of course: we were in Melbourne less than six months ago and so much has happened since then (for Ant in particular).
But what about the seven races to come? There will be more twists, surely, over the next few weeks; what will be the most intense climax to a season ever offers the potential for both banana skins and inspired opportunism. If there were tired faces last night, imagine how it'll be come the end of November. (Note to self: the lighting in airport toilets is not the most forgiving.)
Looking out of the window and gazing down the pitlane at the hordes of Tifosi milling about confirms, if confirmation is needed, that only one team matters here. Red is the colour, Formula 1 is the sport and arms are gesticulating. An infectious passion is starting to bubble.
Optimism is naturally high for the race. It could be higher for Ferrari but the rear suspension problem that afflicted Fernando Alonso during qualifying threw a spanner in the works. The reaction of gesticulator-in-chief Luca di Montezemolo was a sight to behold.
If only a camera had been trained upon him smashing up his TV set when Felipe Massa won, and then lost, the 2008 title; you suspect it might help the political ambitions di Montezemolo has apparently harboured. After all, this is a country that re-elected Silvio Berlusconi.
Di Montezemolo, the President of Ferrari and Team Principal when Niki Lauda won his first World Championship with them, was here on Saturday. He used the place as a stage, waving theatrically to the grandstand opposite the pitwall, all the while knowing that cameras were trained on his every move.
As an exercise in media management, it was faultless. Yet there also seemed very little contrived or even cynical about it; you suspect he's actually like that.
Further confirmation came a little later when di Montezemolo gave a press conference. Blimey, that man can talk. Ted was there too, taking snaps with his camera phone. Besides wearing a combination of expensive loafers without socks - a look that features strongly in the Monza paddock - Il Presidente sports tattoos on each arm.
They were a constant blur during an occasionally rambling, but very entertaining, address covering matters such as cost control in F1 and whether the races are too long. An appearance by di Montezemolo on Saturday at Monza has apparently become an annual rite; I, for one, wish he'd appear more often.
From one iconic venue to another: we're at Monza, the venerable speedbowl set in a royal park on the northern outskirts of Milan. The Sky Sports F1 bus pulled up on Wednesday afternoon and I lasted all of five minutes in the TV compound before slipping away by myself for a couple of hours to start taking it all in.
This place celebrates its 90th birthday this year, making it the oldest track that's still in use anywhere. Understandably, there's a tattiness about the place but that's all part of the charm. The faded sponsors signs and rusty rails sit well alongside the high gloss F1 wagon train and if anyone disagrees...well, that's just heresy isn't it?
Yes, the word 'cathedral' is bandied about. Monza might be a stripling compared to other places of worship round here but it has history to match. In fact, it has history to throw away: the years have produced so much, both good and bad, that it's very easy to pass a spot when out walking the track and completely forget its significance. That's if you're aware of what's actually happened there in the first place.
It was quite something else to find myself alone (give or take the occasional track worker) in places where so much has happened. An approaching thunderstorm gave the air a stillness and heaviness that made the feeling even more intense. The rain eventually arrived as I reached Parabolica. I later discovered it was 42 years to the day since Jochen Rindt lost his life there.
Now it's Friday evening after practice. The grandstands have emptied but the pitlane and paddock are still buzzing with glamorous sponsors' events and the like. In retrospect, it stands to reason that Milan has higher sartorial standards than south central Belgium, which perhaps explains why Natalie took it upon herself to tidy up my collar yesterday. It was looking a bit skew-whiff apparently.
I hadn't noticed; I was still taking it all in. We were by the start-finish line, scene of the closest finish in the sport's history. There...that's one I remembered. I'm sure there are others.